A.N. Willis has written a very entertaining suspense novel in Under Glass and Stone, which is the first in the Byrne House books. Set in the fictional town of Castle Heights in Colorado, the story follows Evelyn and her insatiable curiosity with Byrne House. When her friend, Milo goes missing and is last seen close to Byrne House, recently empty after the death of its owner, Evelyn is sure that she saw Milo’s pale face in the tower and is convinced that he is in there somewhere. But how to find him?
There is nothing quite like a gothic style mansion to entice suspense and the advent of horror, and A.N. Willis does this really well. The story is told in the third person but we follow Evelyn and her discoveries. Willis has a created a cast of solid supporting characters who are Evelyn’s friends and also manages to have love interest in the story and addresses the conflicts that can arise from being an uncertain teenager.
The gothic theme continues beyond that with tunnels and secret doors as well as experimentation, all with a nod to classic literary precursors like Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The way that the story develops is always at a good pace and believable and I was never in a position where it felt contrived. Willis is a competent and controlled writer who knows how a story should evolve with just enough revealed to keep you guessing and reading but not too little to frustrate. I think that it is sometimes difficult to find this balance but Willis has achieved it. I found it difficult to predict where the story was going and of whom to feel the most suspicious.
This is also true of the second book in the Byrne House box set, Doors of Gold and Rust. Continuing where Under Glass and Stone left off, this book follows Evelyn once more as she delves further into the history of Byrne House. This includes different characters who have been mentioned in Book One and expands on some of the discoveries that Evelyn and her friends have made to date. Some of the relationships created in the first book are developed and extra tensions added. Again, the book evolves well although I felt like it was not quite as well-paced as Under Glass and Stone. That said, I was keen to finish it and find out where A.N. Willis was headed with it, the secrets of Byrne House being sufficiently mysterious and magical to pique my interest.
A.N. Willis has created well-plotted novels with just enough horror to make you shiver but not enough to openly repulse. Added to the plots are credible dialogue, family tensions and budding romance and they all combine to make a great read suitable for adults and young adults alike.
I was privileged to receive an advance review copy of this book for free from Book Sirens.